How to Declutter Your Gmail Archives in 4 Easy Steps

While Gmail is a favorite with many web workers who love its ease of use, its quick archiving, its keyboard shortcuts and its storage capabilities, the problem many people seem to face is an archive that seems to get more and more full every day.

It’s lovely to be able to press “Archive” and forget about old emails, but there comes a day when you’ll run out of space. Sure, you can always open multiple Gmail accounts to add more storage, or buy more storage, but why do those things when you can simply delete emails you no longer need.

Let’s be honest: we only keep old emails as a form of CYA, but in reality, most of us never need anything from a year ago. Personally, I never even need emails from two months ago, but every person’s situation is different.

If your Gmail archives are overflowing, consider taking some steps to declutter them.

I’d recommend a good decluttering every few months, to keep your archives clean. I’ve cleared my Gmail account down to 4% with the following steps:

1. Clear out the big stuff. Text-only emails barely take up any space. The big stuff are emails with attachments, especially video files, big pdfs or pictures, audio files, Power Point documents and the like. Do a search for has:attachment and delete as many as you can. If you want to delete emails with attachments before a certain date, add “before:2007/01/01″ (as an example). If you just want to search for certain types of attachments, try the search operator “filename:” and search for filenames such as mpg, mov, mp4, mp3, wav, pdf, and ppt. Delete with abandon.

2. Clear out the old stuff. I personally don’t need any emails older than 6 months, so I next did a search with the before operator: “before:2007/01/01″ (without the quotes, of course). I also added some “not” operators for people whose emails I don’t want to delete, such as “-from:eva” so that I don’t delete emails from my wife. Then I went through and deleted just about every email in the search results.

3. Clear out junk. There are certain emails you get regularly that you know you don’t need. Newsletters, comments or pingbacks from your blog, notifications from different services such as PayPal or your financial institutions (where the info is already available online), ads from companies such as Amazon, and so on. Do searches for each of these, and delete away. I recommend that you set up filters to prevent these from reaching your inbox again.

4. Clear out stuff from people who don’t matter. You get lots of forwarded emails from your aunt, notices from a colleague, cc’d emails from others. Search for their names and delete as judiciously as possible (I’d actually filter these out too). You might also have old emails from people who you no longer do business with. For example, I did freelance writing for a couple of publications last year (and at the beginning of this year) but I’ve discontinued my writing for them. I just looked through all my old emails from them and asked myself, “Will I ever really need these again?” The answer was no. I deleted them all.

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